As Canada enters into the first few months of cannabis legalization, several companies both in and around the industry are looking for ways to help advance the legitimacy of cannabis as a business, while ensuring that they continue to advocate for a robust education system, restricted access to minors and responsible use. Professional services giant Ernst and Young have said that their company’s commitment to this idea is not reflective of any short-term financial gains, but rather to better the industry for a more sustainable future.

"Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] embodies the idea that sustainable development requires more than solely focusing on financial performance," advisor Ashley Chiu told Civilized. "It takes a holistic approach."

"CSR should be embedded into core business practices and can be pivotal in influencing the development of global industry-wide standards," she said.

"It should strengthen relationships between stakeholders and build an inclusive community, identify and reduce the impact of risks, develop knowledge and expertise as well as enable innovation and continuous improvement."

Canada is in a unique position to shape what a robust global cannabis CSR standard could look like, according to Chiu. Establishing a cannabis CSR standard would allow industry stakeholders to share knowledge and develop best practices.

While government regulations establish the legal framework for monitoring this emerging industry, Chiu feels that they have an "unprecedented opportunity" to create a CSR standard for cannabis that goes above and beyond what is legally required. Working together, companies will be able to establish a strong foundation for corporate behavior in the industry.

"The prospect of building something together with various industry stakeholders and leaders humbles and excites us," she said.

This standard, she believes will help to address "key industry challenges" and issues like providing education, restricting youth access, ensuring medical access, establishing ethical marketing and communications practices, advancing scientific research, and practicing good environmental stewardship.

This list, she said, is not comprehensive.

"As the industry evolves, new issues will arise, and we will work collaboratively with the Global Cannabis Partnership to develop best practices and standards to address them."

The effort to create a comprehensive CSR program is intended to not only protect consumers, but also to help those within the industry establish some standard for legitimacy. On this front, Chiu says that travel is "top-of-mind".

"Although Canada is legalizing cannabis, disparities in cannabis laws still exist around the world. This creates complexities around the sale, use, possession or distribution of cannabis, and may impact an employee’s ability to travel where cannabis is federally illegal and, ultimately, can impact business operations," she said.

Chiu went on to say that, as the legalized cannabis framework in Canada continues to take shape, what will make for a "successful" first year will depend on who’s asking.

"Success will be defined differently across the country, as the retail and distribution frameworks for cannabis will vary by province and territory," she said. "However, there are some common themes we hope to see."

Chief among these themes is a cannabis education based on scientific evidence and including responsible use. She also highlighted safe, easy access for medical patients and the establishment of a "relatively objective and accurate baseline for various social, environmental and economic factors related to cannabis," meaning some way to accurately record the effects of cannabis legalization on the country. 

"Curious first-time cannabis users should seek out education regarding cannabis products and responsible use," she said. "There are many resources available online and at the point of sale with respect to dosage, product type, effects and latency period."

"Responsible use education is key for ensuring a safe, predictable and consistent experience."